Nepal PM to mend fences with India

KATHMANDU: Nepali Prime Minister KP Oli begins a state visit to giant neighbor India today, looking to repair ties damaged by a row over the Himalayan republic’s first democratic constitution. Nepal had accused India of imposing an economic blockade in support of a protest against the charter by ethnic minorities, many of whom share close ties with Indians across the border. The four-month blockade was lifted this month.

Oli will meet his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, and President Pranab Mukherjee, among other officials. His trip will focus on mending fences, but he did not expect to sign any new long-term agreements, he told reporters in Kathmandu. “We all know that in the last few months there have been many misunderstandings between our two countries,” Oli said in the Nepali capital. “We now want to get our relationship back on track.”

Ties with India soured following the protests in Nepal’s Tarai-Madhes lowlands after the region’s ethnic Madhesi community said the charter, adopted in September, aimed to weaken its role in the power structure. Analysts say Oli will hope his meeting with Modi shows political rivals back home that he too commands India’s support, considered crucial to keeping his administration in power, but a rapprochement with Delhi alone would not end his domestic woes. “The fire raging in Madhes will not end by merely keeping India happy,” said Chandra Kishore, a Madhesi analyst. “The problem has to be addressed in Kathmandu seriously and not in New Delhi.”

Nepal amended the constitution to boost participation of the Madhesis in parliament but community leaders said the changes failed to address their central fear over the redrawing of the provincial borders in a way that would divide them. The desperately poor country, home to Mount Everest, serves as a natural buffer between India and China, which jostle for influence with aid and investment. Nepal will press India for early completion of projects such as construction of feeder roads and cross-border electric transmission lines, Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel said. – Reuters

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